Sleep linked to cardio, metabolic and immune health

Jon Obe, of Dubuque, Iowa, prepares for a sleep study at Mercy Medical Center-Dubuque’s sleep lab. Over the past 15 years, sleep has become widely recognized as a critical aspect of good health, and new research has shed more light on its importance in cardiovascular, metabolic and immune health. NICK KOHL/Telegraph Herald via AP

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — It’s 10 p.m. on the Wednesday after Christmas, and two of the four beds at Mercy Medical Center-Dubuque’s sleep lab are full.

A sign at the end of the hallway warns: “Quiet, please. Sleep study in progress.”

Sleep technician Tina Walsh puts EEG leads on Jon Obe, of Dubuque, in preparation for such a study.

“I look like a Martian,” said Obe, 65, who was affixed with more than a dozen electrodes, patches and sensors on his head, chest, cheeks and legs to monitor that record his breathing, heart rate, brain waves, and eye and leg movements.

The former neurodiagnostic services technician at Mercy suffers from sleep apnea.

He uses a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which includes a mask he wears at night that fits over the nose and mouth that gently blows air into his airway to help keep it open during sleep.

Lately, however, Obe has been waking up with headaches.

“I wonder if the level of the CPAP is not controlling the apnea as well as when I started,” Obe said.

Over the past 15 years, sleep has become widely recognized as a critical aspect of good health, and new research has shed more light on its importance in cardiovascular, metabolic and immune health, the Telegraph Herald reported.

“There was no specialty of sleep medicine in 1993 when I did my fellowship,” said pulmonary physician Dr. Mark Janes, of Medical Associates in Dubuque.

Janes is board-certified in sleep medicine. He diagnoses and treats sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.

“Sleep medicine was in its infancy,” Janes said. “It wasn’t until the late ’90s when it started to gain in popularity, as cardiologists began to recognize the link between obstructive sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease.”

By the early 2000s, sleep fellowships were in vogue, he said.

“Chronic sleep loss can add up to some negative health impacts,” Janes said, leading to a long list of both mental and physical health issues.

Among them are anxiety, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity, as well as sharp increases in the rates of accidental injury and even death. Sleep loss even has been linked to an increased risk for liver disease.

And even one bad night’s rest will affect a person’s mood, energy, mental clarity and judgment, Janes said.

Unfortunately, the value of sleep is vastly underrated in today’s modern, work-centric society, according to numerous studies and local health professionals.

About 35 percent of people get fewer than the needed seven hours of sleep per night, and 12 percent say they sleep for five hours or less, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An estimated 80 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder, and the largest category is insomnia, according to sleep experts. The next largest is obstructive sleep apnea, which affects about 20 million Americans.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a person stops breathing repeatedly during sleep. Extra tissue in the throat or a decrease in muscle tone can cause the tongue to fall back and the airway to narrow or close during sleep, preventing air from getting into the lungs.

The cessations of breathing can last anywhere from 10 seconds to more than one minute.

About 38,000 cardiac deaths annually are linked to sleep apnea, according to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research.

About 70 percent of people with high blood pressure have sleep apnea and there is a link with diabetes.

Sleep deprivation poses not only numerous health concerns but a public safety issue as well, according to local and national health experts. It is similar to the impairment posed by driving under the influence of alcohol.

Findings from an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report released last month show drivers who have had too little sleep are no different than those who have had three or four alcoholic drinks and are too drunk to drive.

The report analyzed data from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey to delve into how much driving ability decreases based on varying lack of sleep.

The report suggests drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash as drivers who get seven hours of sleep or more.

And, not surprisingly, the less sleep a person behind the wheel gets, the higher the crash rate. For instance, drivers in the study who got only four or five hours of shut-eye had four times the crash rate — close to what is seen among drunken drivers.

Mounting research, too, has revealed working a job that disrupts one’s natural sleep patterns can pose a major risk to health and well-being.

A study by a team from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, and recently published in the journal Cancer Cell, found persistent sleep deprivation in mice causes liver disease and eventually leads to liver cancer.

To model the effect of chronic sleep disruption — or “social jet lag” — mice fed a healthy diet were exposed to disrupted light and dark cycles for nearly two years, by changing the times the lights went on and off during the night each week.

As a result, the mice developed a range of conditions not seen in control mice, which had regular light and dark cycles, according to the study.

Researchers found that the mice gained weight and developed fatty liver disease, which progressed to chronic inflammation and eventually liver cancer in some cases.